Our next trip down memory lane takes us to a very unusual place: A rest area bridging a motorway. This one is located on the Motorway 9 on the Bavarian side of the border that once cut Germany into two. The Brückenrasthaus Frankenwald is the first of two bridge rest areas erected in Germany. This one was built from 1967 to 1969 and was in response to the reopening of the Rudolphstein Viaduct in 1966. The viaduct was partially destroyed towards the end of World War II, thus cutting off one of the most important arteries which connected Berlin and Munich via Leipzig and Nuremberg. Prior to 1966, the route had been detoured through Hof, Plauen and Schleiz for 20 years, with the transit border located between Töpeln (Baveria) and Jüchholz (Thuringia).
Reopening the Viaduct and the new East border controls:
The viaduct was repaired thanks to an agreement between the governments of West and East Germany where West would pay for the repairs, and East would create a new transit and border control facility along the Motorway but at the expense of the border crossing Töpeln and Jüchholz. The Motorway 9 would become the Transit Route taking travelers to Berlin from Bavaria. Of the 530 kilometers of highway the Motorway 9 has, exactly half of it (265 km) went into East Germany after crossing the viaduct. At the time of the opening of the border in November 1989, almost half of that stretch alone was littered with Trabants and Wartburgs, filled with families and friends waiting to cross the border into Bavaria!
Construction and Features of the Bridge Rest Area Frankenwald:
While the viaduct was being rebuilt, together with the border crossing, the Bavarians built their rest area and welcome center to greet those entering Bavaria from the East. Originally functioning as a service station and park area, architects designed a housing bridge that would span the motorway, overlooking the Saale River Valley, and with that, the hills of Thuringia and East Germany. Construction started in 1966 and was completed by 1969. A photo showed the bridging rest area while under construction, dated 1968. It became the very first rest area of its kind, although another rest area at Dammer Berg opened at the end of 1969.
The bridge rest area featured a restaurant, service station, police and border control station and lastly, customs. Unlike the border control area on the Thuringian side, the Bavarian side had up to three lanes of traffic with passport controls on the south end of the viaduct prior to passing the bridge rest area. On the Thuringian side, as many as 10 lanes existed, resembling a toll booth where a person had to pay to cross the bridge; yet stringent checks were carried out while entering and leaving East Germany. While passport checks were a blessing, it became a curse when the border opened on November 9th, 1989, when lines of Wartburgs and Trabants flooded this important rest area on the Bavarian side, each receiving welcome money from West Germany to allow families to buy western products, a commodity that was rarely found in East Germany through their Intershops.
The Brückenrastätte Frankenwald Today
The Brückenrastatte Frankenwald still exists in its original form as of today. One can still see the steep hills of the River Saale alongside the steep curves of the Motorway 9, which requires drivers to go no faster than 100 km/h (60 mph) at the most. Yet its function today is a bit different than it was 30 years ago or even at the time of its opening. Police officers from Bavaria have patroled the area and at times have pulled over truckers for various reasons- stemming from lack of papers to defective truck parts. Service stations still exist on both sides of the Motorway, and a combination restaurant and snack shop can be found in the spot where the restaurant once existed. All of them are privately owned. What’s different is the fact that there are souvenir shops selling goods typical of Bavaria- beer steins, teddy bears, leather outfits and the typical Bavarian flag can be picked up in addition to their prized pretzels with bratwurst at the restaurant/ snack shop. Coffee and drinks, can be taken for the road. And there are no passport controls as they were eliminated with the Reunification of Germany in 1990. Also different is that the exit was rebuilt so that there is one which branches off to either the rest area or to Rudolphstein.
Unlike its Thuringian counterpart, the Frankenwald Rest Area Bridge represents not only one of two examples of a bridge rest areas that exists in Germany, they became forerunners for travel plazas that one can find on some tollways in the US, including the greater Chicago area. Furthermore, the rest area represents an example of history where people from the East were once greeted with open arms. Yet since 1989, they still welcome people with open arms as they enter Bavaria, home of skiing and mountains, Oktoberfest, pretzels and bratwursts and most importantly, a really good beer.
The Thuringian border crossing was reconstructed into a combination service station, convenience store and hotel after 1990. This included the elimination of border control booths and reducing the lanes down to six in each direction. This served as a foundation for expanding the Motorway into six lanes going all the way to Berlin, a project that lasted 25 years. Unlike its Bavarian counterpart, this rest area only serves travelers going into Thuringia on the Motorway 9 towards Berlin.